Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five best: books about art thefts

R.A. Scotti, author of Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa (Knopf, 2009), named her five best books about art thefts for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on her list:
Portrait of Dr. Gachet
by Cynthia Saltzman
Viking, 1998

The most vexing vanishing act since the disappearance of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911 is the loss of Vincent van Gogh's last major work, "Portrait of Dr. Gachet." Van Gogh painted the portrait of his French physician in the summer of 1890. A few days later, he committed suicide. As Cynthia Saltzman recounts in meticulous detail, "Dr. Gachet" passed through many hands over the course of a century. In the late 1930s, it was seized by the Nazis and sold by Hermann Goering for $53,000. The painting was last seen in public at Christie's auction house in New York in May 1990, when Japanese industrialist Ryoei Saito caused a sensation by bidding $82.5 million, an unprecedented sum, to win the work. Shortly after the van Gogh arrived in Tokyo, though, Saito's fortunes changed. He was charged with bribery, lost his business and lived his remaining years under house arrest. When he died in 1996, "Dr. Gachet" seemed to pass away with him; its fate is unknown.
Read about another book on Scotti's list.

--Marshal Zeringue